The Battle for Bear Creek

A real estate speculator and his company Gold Hill Development Co have purchased mining claims in Telluride’s Bear Creek and banned public use on the property. That means no skiing in one of Telluride’s premier backcountry areas.
Bear Creek

Tom Chapman, a real estate speculator and his company Gold Hill Development Co, have purchased 103 acres of mining claims in Telluride’s Bear Creek and banned any public use on the private property. That means no skiing in one of Telluride’s premier backcountry areas.

In a press release issued Dec 1, Telluride Resort’s CEO, Dave Riley said, "Telluride Ski Resort believed it was providing a much needed public service which would help people learn to safely navigate the area.” He continued, "However, certain owners of mining claims, Irene West, Tom Chapman, and Ron Curry, have not accepted our offer to provide insurance and indemnification agreements in return for access privileges across their property."

On Wednesday, December 8th, the United States Forest Service confirmed the closure of three access points into upper Bear Creek from Gold Hill Ridge, south of lift 15. “The decision comes in response to a request from two landowners who own mining claims in the Bear Creek drainage.” U.S. Forest District ranger District Ranger Judy Schutza said, “We want to be good neighbors and discourage trespass.”

Colorado-bred Tom Chapman is a business man with a history of sniffing out, snapping up, and plundering pristine private land in wilderness areas. He then threatens to develop the properties. Desperate to save their beloved wilderness areas, local communities and governments buy back the land from Chapman at grossly inflated prices, and he turns a profit. Chapman then purchases more land, like the Bear Creek claims, and the cycle continues in a buy-low, sell-high cycle.

Telluride locals are already up in arms. George Kuckly, a long time Telluridian, said, “Overall the local community is outraged over this decision. We have made an amazing amount of progress over the years with our expansion and with the upper gates being put into Bear Creek. It blows my mind that two people are crippling an entire community.”

Skiing Bear Creek has long been a contentious issue within the community. The access gates were originally put up in the 80s but were taken down after several avalanche deaths in 1987. After a long drawn out battle between the town, resort and Forest Service, the gates reopened in 1995—a great success for local backcountry enthusiasts. It seemed that the resort and it’s residents’ ideals were aligned, when on March 22, 2010, Telluride Resort announced that it would offer backcountry guiding service into Bear Creek—all but endorsing skiing in the once verboten area.

On March 26th, 2010, Chapman and GHDC bought four claims in Bear Creek for $246,000. In a statement released shortly after the purchase, GHDC made it clear they planned on restricting access to Bear Creek’s prime skiing and hiking. "GHDC intends to enforce its right to exclude people from its private property by using Colorado trespass law if necessary.”  While it’s still unclear exactly what Chapman’s plans are for the properties, there’s been talk of opening a long dormant mine and building luxury homes. One Telluridian, Tommy Thatcher, shared his thoughts: "Tom Chapman is a greedy bugger."

One thing’s for certain, Bear Creek won’t go down without a fight.

Tor Anderson of Telluride’s Mountain Club is already rallying the troops. “We’re outraged that any private owner would shut down public access—especially an area that has been in some cases used for centuries for hiking trails.” He added, “We’re gathering our resources and organizing the community to fight this closure.” And this is one community to be reckoned with. In 2007, the community raised 50 million dollars to save its treasured Valley Floor, a wide swath of green pasture that greets visitors upon entering town.

Many in Telluride are demanding that Chapman doesn’t make a buck off their land. “Regaining public access is first step,” Anderson says.  Some people in town are adamant that we don’t buy him out and put money in his pocket. The sentiment here is that no, he doesn’t get bought out. If he wants to build or mine, let him bleed money. Let me him try.”

The situation is in flux and already there are claims that the Forest Service overstepped their authority. Needless to say, there’s a battle a brewin’. Stay tuned.

For more, see the Telluride Daily Planet or Telluride Ski Resort.


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